Winner of the Telstra Australian Business of the Year, Safetech, is the star of a little-known boom industry that looks set to go on growing.
When Safetech's founder, Dr Lindsay Wakefield, stepped out of his surgery and into factories in the 1980s to see just why so many of his patients had back injuries, occupational health and safety (OHS) was not a high priority for most of their employers. So, when he and his fellow directors invented their ground-breaking "Palift" load leveller that eliminated the need to bend and stretch when loading pallets with boxes, Dr Wakefield faced three marketing challenges.
"Before we could sell a Palift, we needed to convince employers that this type of work could lead to injury, then that it was worthwhile saving people's backs and finally, that Palift was the answer," he said. "It all seems pretty obvious now but Australia's workplaces were barely aware of the benefits of safety 20, or even 10, years ago."
The industry servicing workplace safety was in its infancy a decade ago, confirms organiser of Australia's three big OHS trade shows, Marie Kinsella of Australian Exhibitions & Conferences.
"It will be 10 years in March next year since we launched Safety In Action in Melbourne, which attracted just 39 exhibitors and 1,500 visitors in 1998," she said.
In October, Safetech will be one of around 350 exhibitors showcasing specialist safety products and services to an expected crowd of 12,000 at The Safety Show Sydney. Melbourne's Safety In Action has grown to a similar size and a new dedicated workplace safety exhibition, The Queensland Safety Show, was launched in Brisbane this year.
"Safety In Action and Materials & Manual Handling has become a major show," Ms Kinsella said. "It grew 28% last year, which also makes it one of Australia’s fastest growing trade shows – a remarkable feat by any standard and even more so as we’re in our ninth year."
Both Ms Kinsella and Dr Wakefield said the OHS industry continues to have great growth prospects.
"Employers now understand the enormous benefits of a safer workplace, like enhanced morale and productivity coupled with the cost savings that come with lower compensation claims," Dr Wakefield said.